Neal heard Diana call his name, but he didn't care. He was so close to confronting Fowler, to confronting Kate's killer that nothing else mattered. He grabbed the knife from the display case and sliced through the rope holding the banner without much thought. His body and mind felt both disconnected and so incredibly in-tune with each other at the same time. It was exhilarating.
Gripping the banner tight, he got a few running steps in before launching out into open space. He braced himself, bringing his shoulder up and tucking his face against it just before smashing through the window. Acting on instinct, he released the banner, rolled to his feet, and pulled the gun from his waistband in fluid motions.
Seeing the fear on Fowler's face only made him angrier; he fired off a shot close but not too close to Fowler's head. "I have five shots left, that's the only warning you get." He advanced on Fowler quickly, forcing the other man backwards.
Fowler got his hands up in a defensive position and said, "Whatever you think I-"
"Tell me why you killed Kate!" He glared and aimed the gun with even more intent. "You bought the explosives!"
"You blew up the plane to get rid of us."
"What was in it for you?"
"Jesus, Caffrey, you think you're the only one that lost something?"
Neal cocked the gun. "Don't play with me, Fowler."
"You think I wanted to spend the last year of my life chasing you and a stupid box? It cost me everything! My career is over. My wife's gone."
Neal let his arm fall for a moment, but he couldn't feel sympathy for the man that killed Kate, no matter how much Fowler was trying to gain it. He raised the gun again but it wavered in his hand despite his best effort. Suddenly, the door behind him burst open, and he instantly knew who was barging in. "Stay out of this, Peter!"
"Neal, put the gun down! Neal, don't do this!"
"You know he killed Kate." It was a statement, a fact in Neal's mind.
"I didn't kill her." Fowler's protest was quiet but firm.
"Yes, you did!"
Fowler dropped his hands and made a slight move closer to Neal. "You want to kill me, Neal? Go ahead and pull the trigger."
"Jesus, Fowler, you're not helping this. Neal, do not do this."
It was all he could do to keep tears out of his eyes. This bastard killed Kate in front of his eyes, and he had to pay. "I know he killed her. He killed Kate."
Neal felt his walls start to crumble in a way that terrified him when Peter's voice softened. " Listen to me, if you pull that trigger, you will regret it for the rest of your life, Neal. You're not a killer."
Fowler's eyes darted away before meeting Neal's again, and he really wanted to just pull the damn trigger, but his body wouldn't obey the command. He started to shake all over. "I want him to know how it felt. How she felt."
"Look at me. Look at me, Neal. Neal. Look at me, Neal. Come on." Neal couldn't help it. His eyes moved to Peter, and he could see the compassion and sympathy shining in Peter's eyes. "This isn't who you are."
The gun dropped for a moment, but Neal looked back at Fowler and raised it again. However, the damage had been done, and Peter's words had gotten through to him. As much as Neal wanted to do it, the consequences were too great. He lowered the gun and felt Peter immediately pull it from his hands.
"Cuff him," Peter said, and Diana gently took his wrists and secured them behind his back with her handcuffs.
Neal lost track of what happened for an unknown period of time, but when he finally came back to his senses, he was sitting in Peter's office at the FBI with a bottle of water in his hands. He was methodically shredding the label into tiny pieces while Peter talked on the phone in a tone of voice that he reserved solely for Elizabeth.
Peter glanced over at Neal and said, "Hon, I've got to go, but I'll call you later and let you know about dinner."
"Where is he?" Neal asked as soon as the phone was back in its cradle.
"Interrogation room one."
Neal was on his feet immediately, but his head swam and he had to put a hand against the wall to get his balance.
"Whoa," Peter was at his side before Neal felt steady. He put one hand on Neal's elbow and the other on his shoulder to try and get him to sit back down. "You okay?"
"Yeah." Neal put his hands on Peter's shoulders to push him away, but he wound up gripping Peter's shirt tightly in his fists. "He killed her. He killed Kate."
Peter pressed his lips together in tense line before nodding once. "He's confessed, Neal. He set the explosives."
Neal blinked against the sudden rush of tears. "Why?"
"He was being blackmailed by a man named Vincent Adler."
He gasped and dropped down into the seat so fast that Peter didn't get a chance to react until it was over.
"Do you know Adler?"
Neal nodded but couldn't speak.
"How? Neal, come on. I need to know everything."
"I worked for Adler back when I first came to New York. About eight years ago." Neal hugged his arms around himself and looked up at Peter with wide eyes. "Kate was his assistant. That's how we met."
"What were you doing for Adler?"
"Acquisitions. It was a long con. Adler was worth millions."
Peter leaned against the edge of his desk and waited for Neal to say more.
"He wised up though, and his men came after me and Kate both, but I've always been good at running."
Peter sighed. "Fowler's wife was Adler's assistant too, probably after Kate was fired. She was killed on her way home from work one night, and Fowler hunted down the man who did it, killed him in retaliation. Unfortunately for him, Adler got it on tape and started blackmailing him. Adler wanted the music box, and he thought you had it, and he thought Fowler was the man who could get it from you. Since you were in prison, Fowler went after Kate, thinking that she knew where you'd hidden it. When she didn't, he took her hostage with the plan of ransoming her to you for the box."
Neal took a deep breath and shook his head. "All of this over a stupid music box?"
Peter reached out and patted his shoulder gently. "Look I'm going to get Jones or Diana to take you home. Take the rest of the day, and we'll talk in the morning."
Neal looked up, ready to protest, but Peter cut him off with a wave of his hand.
"It's a lot to process, Neal. Take some time. Fowler's not going anywhere but to prison."
Neal wanted to insist that he was okay to stay, but the truth was that he felt exhausted and completely wrung out. He wanted to curl up in bed and sleep for days. Scratch that. He wanted to drink a lot of wine and then curl up and sleep for days.
Reese Hughes stood on the dais of the White Collar offices and looked over his agents, interns, and Neal Caffrey. He'd called for everyone's attention, but now he wasn't quite sure he could say what he needed to say out loud. He took a deep breath and plunged ahead.
"As some of you may know, my daughter has been ill for some time. She's taken a turn for the worse, and I'm going to be taking a couple of months off to be with my family." There were gasps and murmurs of sympathy among the personnel, but Hughes didn't pause for more than a moment. "Peter will be in charge in the interim, and he'll be shadowing me for the rest of the week. That means that Agents Berrigan and Jones will be filling in for Peter, so anything you would take to Peter for the next couple of months should be directed to them. Is that clear?"
Everyone nodded. Their solemn, concerned expressions almost did Reese in, but he had one more thing to say. "Now, I have a personal request. My daughter Emma needs a bone marrow donor, and so far neither her brother nor my wife and I have been matches. If anyone would like to be tested, we would be very grateful."
Several people nodded again, and Reese dismissed them with a simple, "Thank you."
Down in the bullpen, Neal turned to Peter and frowned. "I didn't know that Hughes had kids."
"Michael and Emma, I think are their names. El usually keeps track of that stuff." Peter shrugged and handed the file he'd been holding to Neal. "Take a look at this mortgage fraud, and let Diana or Jones know if you come up with anything."
"So I'm going to be reporting to them now?" Neal was curious how this whole interim ASAC thing was going to work. Diana and Jones could be strict with him, stricter than Peter for sure, but he could also work them to his advantage.
Peter smirked. "Yes, for most things. I'm still your official handler, and there will be times when I'll be supervising assignments, but for the most part, for the next two months, you'll be reporting to Diana and Jones."
Neal's eyes lit up, and he beamed at Peter.
"Hey, no funny business. You're to give them with the same respect you give me."
Neal crossed his finger over his heart and held up the two-finger salute. "I'll be a perfect Boy Scout."
Peter just shook his head and walked away, up the stairs to the second level. He had faith in Diana and Jones, but Caffrey was slippery when not handled with care, especially recently. Facing Fowler and confronting the man who had killed Kate had not been Neal's finest hour, and Peter could see that there were still cracks in the façade. He hoped that Neal would start to come to terms with the loss of his girlfriend, but there was no way to really know what was going on inside his head. Peter hated not having all the information, particularly when it came to Neal.
Down in the bullpen, Neal watched Peter climb the stairs and walk into Hughes' office. Things were certainly going to be different around the office for a while.
"Caffrey," Diana called, causing Neal to turn around. She was standing by her desk holding an empty coffee cup. "I take my coffee with one cream, no sugar."
Neal held up the folder that Peter had handed him earlier as he sauntered toward her. "That's nice, but Peter gave me a case to work on."
She snatched it from his hand and flipped it open. "What do we have here?"
Neal made a grab for it, but she stepped back out of his reach.
Diana raised an eyebrow at him over the folder. "This is a cold case. You can get my coffee and then get to work on this."
Neal sighed and took both the folder and the mug from her. He went into the kitchenette and made sure to add a healthy dose of sugar to her drink. Then, he dropped it by her desk on his way back to his own.
When she spluttered the coffee out a few minutes later and called his name, Neal merely shrugged, and replied, "Didn't you say nine sugars?"
The rest of the day progressed slowly. Neal read through the case file and then did some digging on the internet regarding the company behind the mortgage fraud. He was three shell companies deep in the mess when Peter walked over and rapped his knuckles on the one square inch of his desk not taken up by papers.
Neal looked up to see many of the other agents packing it up for the night. "Is it five already?"
"Yeah. Making progress on the case or playing Solitaire?" Peter asked, leaning over so that he could see Neal's screen.
Neal scowled at the implication that he would be that invested in Solitaire. "I'm trying to trace Byrdman Realty back to it's original owner. So far, I haven't had any luck."
"Pick it up tomorrow. El's invited you to dinner, which I think is code for 'Neal will appreciate my beef Wellington more than you'."
Neal laughed and nodded. "I don't know why she cooks such things for you. You'd be just as happy with a meatloaf as you would with this."
"That's not true," Peter protested, while Neal grabbed his coat and hat.
"Peter, what's in beef Wellington?"
Peter pressed the elevator's down button and squinted at the floor as he tried to remember if he'd even had beef Wellington before. "A sauce of some kind."
"Yeah, you're a regular connoisseur of fine food."
Rolling his eyes, Peter stepped onto the elevator car and held up two fingers to let Neal know to press the P2 button for the garage parking level. His phone dinged with a text message, and he checked it before cursing under his breath.
"What's wrong?" Neal tried to get a glimpse of the phone, but Peter tucked it back in his pocket.
"I forgot that El and I have an appointment to get tested and see if one of us is a match for Emma. Do you want to come?"
Neal nodded. "I was planning on setting up an appointment too. As much as Hughes is, well, Hughes, I wouldn't wish this on anyone."
"Yeah, me either."
The doctor's office was outside of Neal's radius, but Peter made a call into the Marshals since it was after working hours. The procedure was a simple cheek swab, and the nursing staff was happy to squeeze Neal in during Peter and Elizabeth's appointment. They welcomed anyone and everyone who wanted to be tested. Within thirty minutes, they were on their way back to Brooklyn for dinner.
Almost one week later, on Monday, Neal got a call from the doctor's office where he'd had his cheek swabbed. While he hadn't forgotten about being tested as a match for Hughes' daughter, he'd been so busy working the case with Diana and Jones that it had been relegated to the back of his mind.
"Mr. Caffrey?" a pleasant female voice asked on the other end of the line.
"This is Sharon, from Dr. Cartwright's office. Your test results came back as a preliminary match for Ms. Hughes. We would like to perform a blood test to confirm the results. Would you be able to come in tomorrow afternoon?"
Neal glanced up at Peter's office, where his handler looked busy, simultaneously pacing back and forth while talking on the phone. Then, he looked over at Diana and Jones, who were sneaking glances at him, obviously curious about him taking a phone call in the middle of trying to break a case. This was for Hughes and his daughter; they would let him have an hour off to do a simple blood test.
"Yes. I'm sorry. What time tomorrow?"
"Will one p.m. work for you?"
"That should be okay. I'll have to speak to my boss. Do you have a number, in case I need to change the time?" Neal made a mental note of the number and turned to see if Peter was off the phone yet.
Peter was now sitting behind his desk, typing something on his computer, so Neal headed up there and entered the office with a cursory knock.
"Neal, I'm in the middle of some-" he abruptly broke off when he saw Neal's face. "What's going on?"
He took a deep breath and slipped into his usual seat across from Peter. "The doctor's office called. They think I'm a match for Hughes' daughter, and they want me to go back in tomorrow for blood work."
Whatever Peter had thought Neal was going to say, that wasn't it all. He smiled and nodded. "That's good news. You can have as much time as you need tomorrow. Just let Diana and Jones know when it is."
"What about-" Neal extended his left leg, reminding Peter about his anklet.
"I'll extend your radius to include the hospital tomorrow afternoon."
Neal nodded and stood. "Thanks," he said as he headed out the open door and down to the bullpen to fill in Diana and Jones.
That night, Peter was still in the office at nine, long after the last probie had left for the night. He was finishing up a review of the team's last case when Kimberly Rice stepped into his office.
"Burke," she greeted, as gruff as ever.
"Rice, what brings you up to the twenty-first floor?"
She held up a thin file folder. "Daniel Hughes."
Peter had been expecting this visit though not at nine o'clock the day that Neal got his test results. Only a few people in the FBI offices knew about Daniel, and most of them worked in Missing Persons. Daniel had been three years old when he'd been kidnapped from the park down the street from the Hughes' home. Catherine, Reese's wife, had left him for a few minutes, and then he was gone.
A couple of times a year, Hughes had Missing Persons run a search in the database for anyone matching Daniel's description or the fingerprints that Hughes had the foresight to get from each of his kids when they were around two years old. So far, there had never been a hit, and though it was nearly impossible to match a child's fingerprint to an adult's with a computer, Hughes had never really given up hope.
"Word around the office is that Caffrey's a match for Emma."
"And that makes you think that he's Daniel Hughes? Neal's thirty-five. Daniel would be, what? Twenty-five?"
She raised an eyebrow. "Two months shy of twenty-seven. And age is just a number, Burke. You, of all people, know what Neal Caffrey is capable of. He's supposedly never revealed anything about his childhood, and you don't have any records of it."
Peter sighed but didn't rise to the bait. He didn't know any more about Neal's childhood than she did, but he wasn't sure he wanted to let her know that just yet.
"I'm putting in an official request to borrow him tomorrow, ask him a few questions." Rice crossed her arms over her chest and stared him down, practically daring him to say no.
"Not tomorrow, not until we know for sure that he's a match for Emma."
Rice looked surprised. "I was under the impression that it was a done deal."
"Well, you need to get a better gossip mill. Neal's going in for more tests tomorrow. If those come back positive, then he and I will sit down with you for some questions."
"You're not really going to hold his hand through this whole process, are you Burke? He's a grown man."
"What I do with my CI is none of your business, Rice."
"Fine, but Daniel Hughes is my case."
"Understood." Peter was firm in his tone and flicked his eyes toward the door, effectively dismissing her.
Once Rice had disappeared into the elevators, Peter deflated and rubbed his hands over his face. If Neal was Daniel Hughes, then his life was about to turn upside down. And Neal Caffrey's usual coping mechanism was to run.